When I pushed out both my babies, it felt right that it took 3ish hours and wrung me out till there was nothing left, not a drop. I slumped into a sweaty exhausted heap in between each push, eyes rolling back, mouth slack, muscles spent.
I have no judgements of women who chose early pain management in labor but it's not what I wanted. I wanted a drug-free, vaginal delivery. I knew there would be screaming, blood, inhuman levels of pain and exertion.
I wanted that. I wanted to feel it all. I wanted to labor.
I wanted to start my babies lives without drugs in their system. I wanted to feel connected to women throughout the centuries who have done this incredible, goddess-like thing. But also, there was a tiny part of me that wanted to push through something like punishment. To emerge from a difficult trial victorious. To prove to myself that I could do it. If I could handle it, I could handle anything.
If I could do it, I deserved to be a mother.
I've thought often that labor and delivery was my version of doing a marathon. A trial of will, spirit and flesh. Due to injuries to my feet and knees from dancing (not to mention a pesky, passionate hatred of running), I could never do a marathon. Never.
But I could labor.
I do feel like I proved something to myself, especially with E's delivery. I felt triumphant and the glow of her birth lasted for a long, long time.
The daily labor of being a mother is something else entirely. It can be grinding, exhausting, thankless. There is no cataclysmic moment at the end where flesh opens, people cheer and you clutch a brand new person to your breast. There is just another day of more labor. Another night of unknown amounts of sleep. There is no end.
(*Here's where you all start composing your kind, concerned comments - have you considered psychotherapy? how about anti-depressants? - in your head*)
I find the suffering from lack of sleep that is currently my labor to be one of the more difficult in motherhood. To lay my head down at night (and again, repeatedly, in the wee hours of the morning) and have NO IDEA how long I will be able to sleep is so unsettling, so miserable, it defies my usual simple solutions for sanity and mental health (Get more exercise! Try a little deep breathing! Have a piece of dark chocolate!)
After an impressive start with long stretches of uninterrupted sleep as an infant, E's sleep has been a mess for .... a month? Three?
(I broke her, didn't I?)
About twice a week, E sleeps for 11 hours without a peep. Hurrah! She is cured! Whatever I did today I will make myself insane by trying to completely replicate in its entirety tomorrow!
About twice a week, E wakes once or twice and falls back asleep with a little paci help or maybe one rocking session. Fine. Just. Fine.
About twice a week, E wakes every 1.5 - 2 hours and insists on being held and nursed indefinitely. O. M. G. I WILL NOT SURVIVE THIS. On these nights, I emerge not victorious, not triumphant, but spent, exhausted, confused. I cannot find this trial of body and mind and spirit to be a great test of my will, a proof of my power as a woman. I find it only crushing, draining, dispiriting.
(Any other synonyms left in that thesaurus?)
It helps just a little that I am not alone. That I am once again connected to the centuries of women, of mothers, who've come before me.
And those -you -who walk beside me.